FREEPORT — The rain stopped. A rainbow appeared. Freeport boys’ soccer coach Bob Strong ditched plans for working out in the gym and moved his team outside for practice Monday afternoon on their glistening new turf field.

Things are certainly looking up in Freeport, where the second-seeded Falcons are preparing to host No. 4 Cape Elizabeth in a Class B South regional championship game at 6 p.m. Wednesday. It marks the first time in 11 years Freeport has been involved in such a contest, having lost the 2007 Western Maine final to Falmouth in overtime.

“For the most part, it’s just surreal,” said junior back Damon Butler. “Right now we’re trying to take it one game at a time, but it’s in the back of our head – state championship.”

The Falcons (11-3-2) last played for a state title in 1978 when they won a third straight Class B title. Since 2000, only Yarmouth, Greely or Falmouth (now in Class A) has advanced from this region – and all 18 years went on to become state champion.

Cape Elizabeth (9-4-3) is an eight-time state champion, but all in Class A, and the Capers have not played in a title match since 1997. They ended Yarmouth’s four-year reign – and 45-game unbeaten streak – with a 2-1 victory in Friday’s semifinals.

One of the biggest reasons Freeport is still playing is because of a defense that has registered six shutouts and yielded only 13 goals in 16 games, never more than two in any contest. Senior Atticus Patrick returned in goal, but only one – Butler – of the four main backs in front of him had any varsity experience at that position.

Bob Strong, in his first year as Freeport coach, tried several combinations at the start of the season until he found the right chemistry.

“Coming into the season, probably the biggest question mark was the defense,” Butler said. “Now it’s the most reassuring part of our team.”

Strong, in his first year as coach, approached his task without preconceived notions. He tried different combinations in summer league action, moving players into unfamiliar territory, not always with great success.

“He played everybody wherever,” Patrick said. “We had some mistakes, some bad games, but it didn’t matter, because we found the chemistry.”

Strong wound up moving senior Caleb Arsenault, who had played striker and midfield, to center back. Left wing Owen Patrick, identical twin brother of the keeper, joined Butler as an outside back. Junior Sam Larochelle, who scored half a dozen goals as the junior varsity striker last fall, filled out the defensive quartet.

Freeport’s first four games included lopsided victories over Gray-New Gloucester and Lake Region along with a scoreless tie against Greely and a 1-1 tie with Yarmouth, ending the Clippers’ 26-game winning streak.

“I really think our defense is the cornerstone of our team,” Strong said. “They’ve all kind of transformed their attacking minds to become defensive players. It really speaks to the willingness of these guys to do what’s best for the team. They’ve embraced their roles and as they’ve jelled, their confidence has skyrocketed.”

Arsenault is the only one of the four with a goal this season, having converted a penalty kick in a 4-1 victory over Traip Academy. He also takes goal kicks. It took a while for him to realize the value of his experience on offense.

“I kind of know the tactics, where they want to go, the passes they might want to make over the top,” he said, “so it’s easier to read that.”

While impressively steadfast, Freeport’s four backs are the only line of defense, simply the last line of a team-wide commitment to making things difficult for opposing offenses. Greely Coach Mike Andreasen, whose Rangers were held to one goal – coming in a 3-1 regional semifinal loss Friday – in three games against Freeport this season pointed to leading scorer Jesse Bennell’s ability to control midfield. Bennell has 14 goals and 10 assists.

“As a group, Freeport has made a conscious decision to defend and it starts with their forwards playing high-pressure defense,” Andreasen said. “It also doesn’t hurt that they have Atticus Patrick in goal. He’s a seasoned veteran who is clearly one of the best goalkeepers around.”

Yarmouth Coach Mike Hagerty, whose team beat Freeport 2-1 in their second meeting, agreed, noting the connection between all 10 field players.

“Their success should be attributed to their team defense,” he said, “not just their back line.”

Cape Elizabeth and Freeport split games in the regular season – the Capers winning 2-0 at home in September and Freeport capping its regular season with a 2-1 victory in front of its home crowd, which has swelled noticeably thanks to bleachers, lights and the new facility adjacent to the school.

“I’m excited to play Cape, especially because it’s here, with the home crowd and my senior year,” Owen Patrick said. “In the past couple years, I never thought I would be here, not in a million years, but we’ve really put something special together.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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